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2013 Small Business Leader of the Year – Vanice Serrano

Serrano keeps on trucking

The JAX Chamber has approximately 3,000 members but only one overall Chamber Small Business Leader of the Year.

This year’s winner, Vanice Serrano of ASAP Towing and Storage Company, was chosen from among 10 finalists. The SBLY finalists were selected for the honor by the Chamber Councils, the Beaches Division and the Entrepreneurial Growth Division.

“We congratulate our 2013 Small Business Leader of the Year winners,” said John Bryan, director of the JAX Chamber Beaches Division and Councils. “They are exemplary leaders who have achieved great success in their respective fields and outstanding representatives of the Chamber’s membership.”

Serrano was named the overall winner at the JAX Chamber’s Annual Meeting on Jan. 24. Her success dates back much further.

Vanice Serrano and her partner started ASAP Towing with an investment of $20,000 in 1995.

The company started with three employees, a used 1988 Ford tow truck and a modular office unit with one desk. All were located on a leased five-acre parcel on 103rd Street that had previously belonged to a towing company.

Within two years, ASAP had hired two additional full-time employees, a dispatcher and title clerk. It was just the beginning.

Today, ASAP has 30 full-time and 2 part-time employees; a fleet of more than 30 tow trucks of various sizes; multiple operating divisions and five locations in Northeast Florida. Its mission statement: “We move anything anytime. We are everywhere!”

The same could be said for Serrano, the Jax Chamber’s 2013 Small Business Leader of the Year. She has built a thriving company by persevering through personal and professional challenges, and by selflessly supporting others through volunteer work and community involvement.

“I truly believe that to follow your heart and use your intuition will lead to long-term satisfaction in all of your matters,” Serrano wrote in her nomination, after citing a quote about the importance of doing so from the late Steve Jobs. “I love the challenges presented while being self employed, only to plunge on to harder ground during this difficult time.

“I find that leadership is a true quality which is inspired and shared among the team we have built at ASAP Towing. The diversification between ASAP Towing, ASAP Wheels and ASAP Heavy Haul have compensated and built the company in a stronger playing field than usual.

Our satisfaction at the end of the day is when customers have been safely transported to their destination along with their vehicle. Then they call us to thank us for a job well done.”

Serrano’s passion for customer service has keyed ASAP’s growth.

Born and raised on the Westside, she began honing her business skills even before she graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in 1983. She entered the workforce in 1982, during her junior year, with a job at Florida National bank downtown in the Armored Car division.

Serrano credits her first job for teaching her skills such as customer service, balancing credits and debits, handling thousands of deposits and challenging her with a lot of responsibilities.

She later to transferred into the bank’s branches, learning the teller position and cross-training as a customer service representative. The bank eventually merged with another financial institution, bringing on new goals and job demands.

“Having attained these customer service skills from banking strengthened me to gain the customer database for ASAP Towing and to build long-term, loyal working relationships, which have led to the growth and endurance of ASAP Towing,” Serrano wrote in her SBLY nomination.

In recalling ASAP’s beginnings, Serrano wrote that she and her partner were, “inspired by the opportunity to become entrepreneurs and to open a towing company even though we did not know how to use a tow truck.”

The fact that Serrano’s has succeeded in an industry dominated by men has not been lost on her peers.

“She has not just broken the stereotypical mold of a woman leader in the world of towing: she has melted it down and re-forged it into a shining new example of what leadership looks like in the 21st century,” wrote Janet Herrick, CEO of Onsite Environmental Consulting LLC and 2011 SBLY, in a letter of recommendation of Serrano.

Nor has Serrano’s ability to balance work and family gone unnoticed among those who know her best.

“I have seen her mature as she and her husband have grown their towing company from a small start-up business into one of the largest, best managed in Jacksonville, while raising a family, maintaining a household, and caring for her elderly father,” wrote J. Kevin Hargnett, CPA, in a letter of recommendation for Serrano.

“Vanice has been involved in all areas of their company, from inception through difficult times of growth and economic changes, and has consistently kept the company pointed in the direction of providing quality service and customer satisfaction.

“Her success is evidenced by the growth of the company in revenues, employees and respect within the community,” wrote Hargnett, who has known Serrano since they were in the Murray Hill Baptist Church youth group together more than 35 years ago.

Looking ahead, Serrano plans for ASAP Towing to increase its annual revenue by $450,000 in 2013, targeting more apartment complexes and commercial businesses at the Beaches and in St. Augustine. She also wants to increase Heavy Wrecker’s share of annual income to 25 percent from 2014, almost double its percentage at the end of 2012.

Lastly, she wants to expand ASAP Towing beyond Jacksonville, establishing locations across Florida — growing well beyond its modest Westside beginnings.


Innovation drives growth

ASAP Towing has been innovative in the towing business by addressing and changing the means by which it pays its drivers. The drivers use to be paid by salary/hourly and $10 per call after hours. The company changed to commission for several years and now prefers a flat rate per call to alleviate any favoritism from dispatch to driver.

ASAP Towing also has installed a program called Fleetnet in all of its trucks. The GPS device monitors speed and direction, is internet accessible and can be monitored from any computer. ASAP also has installed speed reduction devices to control gas consumption.

ASAP Towing uses the latest technology for telephone service in all of its locations, allowing authorized employees to answer and transfer calls from any office.

The company also is installing a new dispatch program which integrates with QuickBooks and will allow tracking of each driver’s daily calls and how money is collected. This may be billing, cash, check, or credit card, and the release of impound cars. This allows safe tracking reports for money to be safely deposited in the drop safes at each location and will be matched in daily deposits for the bank.

Serrano notes that ASAP is a top performer on the Jacksonville Sheriff Office’s Tow Owners List. JSO supervises ASAP’s TOL calls and the company operates at the top of the chart for towers.
ASAP’s performance has been in good standings with JSO over the past 16 years.

“We have responded to our customers’ needs in a professional manner by holding ourselves accountable and to the highest standard for the industry,” Serrano wrote in her nomination package.
She wrote that ASAP Towing is one of the only towing services which offer 24/7 roadside call assistance. “There are many nights where customers tell us they cannot reach their regular towing company,” she wrote. “Since we do shifts, there is a night dispatcher and driver on call every night of the week.”
ASAP Towing advertises its towing auctions to attract new buyers every month, and guarantees its paperwork can be exchanged for a title at the Tax Collector’s Office. The company requires all purchasers to put the title of the car purchased in their name to protect any previous owners or lien holders from future harm.


Leading and learning

When Serrano took the Marketing Matters offered through the Jacksonville Women’s Business Center in 2010, it marked the first time she had taken a class to further ASAP Towing’s business in Jacksonville. It would not be the last.

Serrano recalls that Marketing Matters had so many outstanding mentors and students that she felt a little intimidated at first. She was matched with a mentor from The Stellar Group. Through the program Serrano would gain insight into advertising, learn how important it is to having a marketing plan, the power of branding and how to set and achieve goals. Her mentor inspired her to grow to be the best in marketing in the towing industry.

Serrano went on to graduate from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s SBA’s E200 class in November 2012. She now understands the importance of having a three-year strategic plan, being able to budget a marketing plan, understanding and using the information on your bi-weekly financials to track positive growth, deciding which customers are the most valuable, and focusing on how to maintain them with the best customer service possible.

ASAP Towing has been a member of the Jax Chamber since 2005. Serrano is active in the West Council and looks forward to volunteering at community events. She had never been to The Players golf tournament until she began volunteering with the West Council. Now she looks forward to the event each year.
ASAP Towing also sponsors many community and charity events such as those for Make a Wish Foundation and Dreams Come True. The company also buys Christmas presents for the Boys Home, has provided bicycles to Camp Consequence and assists the First Coast Apartment Association with donating Christmas toys to the Children’s Home Society.

Statement of Merit:

I truly believe that to follow your heart and use your intuition will lead to long-term satisfaction in all of your matters. I love the challenges presented while being self employed, only to plunge on to harder ground during this difficult time.

I find that leadership is a true quality which is inspired and shared among the team we have built at ASAP Towing. The diversification between ASAP Towing, ASAP Wheels and ASAP Heavy Haul have compensated and built the company in a stronger playing field than usual.

Our satisfaction at the end of the day is when customers have been safely transported to their destination along with their vehicle. Then they call us to thank us for a job well done.

I am truly honored to be the West Council Small Business Leader of the Year 2013. I will represent them with the upmost strength, respect, and leadership qualities possible.

If chosen to be the Small Business Leader of the Year, I will be an advocate and a voice that will be heard on how the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce has truly embraced ASAP Towing. I will tell of all of the benefits offered to support the local businesses and the opportunity to grow in knowledge and in their own industry. The mentorship is amazing in the Jacksonville Chamber, which I am so proud to be part of.
Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to a prosperous year together.

Words she lives by

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important is to have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” — Steve Jobs


What others say

“I have always found Vanice to be conscientious and diligent in the operation and management of the Company, attempting to grow the business and maintain quality service. I believe that it is reasonable to continue to expect the Company to operate efficiently and grow.” — J. Kevin Hargnett, CPA

Vanice is a woman of both grit and grace. She walks in a man’s world in her industry of towing, but she is very capable of holding her own, which she does through diplomacy and tact. Vanice will give it to you straight, but she will do so in a calm and professional manner.” — Janet Herrick, CEO, Onsite Environmental Consulting, LLC and 2011 Small Business Leader of the Year

“Any member can chow up to a breakfast or a lunch; do the self-intro speech and glad hand folks for an hour. However, Janice is the exception. While she can certainly represent her company accordingly, normally when we’re getting together for lunch she would’ve only gone to sleep a few hours earlier. As a great spousal team Vanice has the task of managing and dispatching through the night on the graveyard shift. What’s even more remarkable is where we can always count on her which is at our various volunteer events. For the past few years we’ve provided concession volunteers to The Players on Friday (one of the busiest days) and Vanice comes out bright and early to lend a hand; not to mention works harder than many.” — R. Patrick Heatherington, 2012 West Council President

“She is a highly dedicated professional who is conscientious, humble and honest. As a result, she has earned the respect of all who come in contact with her.” — Angela B. Corey, State Attorney, Fourth Judicial Circuit

“Vanice has the ability to hear the good and the bad of what is going on, and able to work with her team n a ‘hands on’ approach to correct any tribulations.” — Michael Gould, General Manager, St. Augustine Wrecker

“Vanice is a dedicated and committed business owner. She values integrity and putting her customers first. Being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry, her success is evident by the longevity and growth of her business.” — Pixie Larizza, Past President, Women Business Owners of North Florida, 2011-2012

“Vanice is an intelligent woman who holds the towing industry to the highest standard and has earned the respect of fellow towers in Jacksonville.” — Doug Dixon, DeeWay Towing


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